It looks like Australia's third election debate will be conducted on Facebook, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull snubbing a proposed Sky News debate for "the media of our time". Opposition leader Bill Shorten has since accepted the invitation. Originally proposed to take place on pay TV, the move to social media should see more Australians have access to the debate. The notable exceptions are the technology shy, people with bad internet connections and anyone who hates Facebook.
The 2016 federal election is being fought on technology — both literally and figuratively. Today, both party leaders agreed to duke it out on Facebook Live following a public invitation by Malcolm Turnbull, who had previously rejected calls for a debate on Sky News.
"We are in 2016, this is the 21st century. This is the time of innovation," Turnbull said in a statement.
Despite the unorthodox way that the debate format was proposed, Shorten's camp has agreed to the platform, albeit reluctantly:
"If he doesn't front up at the [Sky News] People's Forum tomorrow, he is turning his back on Queenslanders... [But] I’m happy to debate Mr Turnbull anytime, anywhere."
Being a predominantly tech-focused website, we're pretty big fans of this proposal. Holding an online-only election debate isn't nearly as exclusive as it sounds. (It should certainly attract more eyeballs than Sky News, for example.) However, it still needs to be done right. The current platform of choice is somewhat limiting — for both technological and ideological reasons.
Let's talk about the latter first. Facebook has plenty of staunch opponents in Australia due to its questionable commitment to privacy and other invasive practices. Adding to this, there are many older Australians who never got on board. According to the SMH, the debate will also be streamed on the Rupert Murdoch-owned website news.com.au — for many, that's even worse.
It's not yet known whether the debate will be embeddedable on other websites. If the only choices are Facebook or news.com.au, many people will skip the debate on principle. Hopefully, there'll be some kind of government-run portal to watch on.
Technology could also pose some problems here. Ironically, Turnbull's insistence on an online debate could help to highlight the woeful state of the country's internet speeds; particularly in ultra-rural areas. This was recently highlighted by a Twitter exchange between Telstra and one of its customers about the incoming debate.
When asked how much data a 60 minute debate would cost, Telstra replied with the following:
@MarkDiStef Hard to be certain, but as an example, streaming High Definition Netflix will use around 3GB of data per hour - Oliver
— Telstra (@Telstra) June 7, 2016
In other words, it doesn't have a clue. If you're on a tight data cap or a slow internet connection, you're going to receive more headaches from the election debate than usual.
We're keen to hear your thoughts on this. Is this "the most exciting time to be an Australian" as Turnbull is suggesting, or a needlessly complicated and restrictive way to run an election debate? Share your thoughts in the comments.